Margo Anderson: “Fairies Walk Amongst Us”

We Fairies have walked, slipped, flown, hovered in this land for millennium, perhaps we are the oldest civilisation in the world; however it must be said that we are not apparent to all who walk, swim, slither, pound or gallop across your fine brown land.

We are everywhere, watching, smiling, delighting in, smirking, wondering why and taking note of what you do.

Fairies are as different one from the other as every one of you are, the only difference between you and us is that we did not come from other lands, most of you did; we began here and we are nowhere else in the world.

I am old, tired, sometimes grumpy, the holder of history, ours and yours. Most importantly of all, in three hundred and forty years I will die. With this said you would understand then my urgency as I tell this story and impart such important information; not a moment to spare.

As a senior, I have decided that it is time and it is right to cross the divide and to make ourselves known to you humans and I have chosen Isabel to be the conduit; she is just four years old, lives in a tumble down house near the same railway bridge as I do and she has time on her hands.

Her parents work long hours, are on the road endlessly and regularly travel to other States. Why you people do this is beyond my comprehension! You get up so early, walk the dog silently, scoop poop in small black bags so as not to show others what the dog spits from the bum, wash your whole body every day in a thing called a shower, force down dry scales sodden with white water, scream at each other about time, bundle into a car and speed away from home along with so many others; all of you sitting in cars worth thousands of dollars, often alone and unanimated. We wander if you are yet alive to the day.

Isabel on the other hand is left at home alone; her parents snarling “Child Care costs being what they are”; and she is, in fact, better at home alone.

Isabel sees things, feels things, knows things and allows things to be. She is my chosen one, the one who will guide this new era. She will not use words such as “moving forward, re-enablement, incentivisation, peri urban communiqué and all those weasel words designed to divide with their inherent confusion and shallow mystery; she will speak in our tongue, our language and with our lilt, available to all the beings who have opened their listening cells.

So here I am, sitting on the household eating space, a dining table they call it but it looks more like a storage plank for clothes, books, used plates and colouring pages. I wait for Isabel to gather her treasures and make a place for herself in the sunny corner of a room near a door leading to the garden. She arrives and I land softly right in front of her and she smiles a welcome that makes my tiny heart melt just a bit.

Word to the audience:

Isabel and I have a pact about what is to happen and this includes absolute secrecy, so as you are reading or listening to this now, you must cross your heart and swear not to tell a soul what is about to happen; are you all with us?

Forma clingly weny dorse, marisha fen sooo plun– it is time my dear one to join our two worlds together”, I said in my most sage voice.

Grews tasdly viron mecs, badsa wormk noni tarl-I have time enough to take you through the next sixty years, after which you will lead alone and you will lead with exquisite powers and I will be resting and watching as I wait to leave off”.

Zalfs vogle glemd Isabel-Be not afraid wee Isabel”.

She looked straight at me and with the clearest of eye and intention said, “Wi larm soti and soti quar poc mik fal tloo-I have been waiting and waiting for you to come and tell me this”.

Plarry flis dar nee ci norlm vec darim comed soj wushi -I am as ready as can be and of course these matters cannot be rushed”, her voice sure and clear.

So now the plan was set and together, this small complete person, with the occasional signposting from this old fairy, will guide and open all people to an end that we have no knowing of at this stage. She will have the ear of Prime Ministers and decision makers, she will speak with love about love to the monoliths called churches, and she will open the hardest of hearts to a broad understanding of equanimity, common-wealth, and enough already. She will caress this broken land and give the miners back their dignity as she turns them from their ripping theft, she will show people about real welcome- be their arrival by water, land or air and she will shine a clear and kind mirror up to celebratory revealing the inherent shallowness. She will be kind to those who cannot be kind to themselves as they impinge their hurt on others, helping them see another way where all can prosper.

Biolds margsle, flanta cudsa vi snozzel– There is a lot to do; I will come back after you have rested”, I said.

“Fairies vomsa gloh klees- You need more rest than I do” was her truthful response and so the task ahead was set and started.

Mary Powell: “Out For a Walk With the Dogs”

Walking the dogs is a pastime that often involves me although I don’t own a dog.

A friend believes it is mean to have only one dog; they need a mate so she has two.

On Easter Monday she and I joined another friend who is perfectly happy with one gentle and loving dog called Fleur who is somehow related to a King Charles spaniel.

I’m sure I’m invited to join these walks because of my wit and charm but I’m not unaware of the fact that a third dog-handler is pretty much essential.

That day I arrived early at the meeting spot and was in time to watch my friend with the two dogs get them out of her car.  One is a very bouncy gregarious small, black, pooch called Bob who like children with ADHD finds it hard to keep still.  He caused his lead and Charlie’s to become entangled.  I watched while Joy struggled to untangle the mess and get them out of the car.  I could’ve helped but it was more fun leaning against a concrete bollard watching.

As they neared me Joy started talking,

“These two are driving me mad.  Bob has barked most of the way here and Charlie didn’t want to get out of the car.  Then I found his lead was hooked up and he couldn’t get out even if he’d wanted to.  Here!”  She hands me a lead.  I found it was Bob’s lead when he sprang towards a couple of passing dogs. I congratulated myself on having a firm grasp on it.

We waited for Nicky.  We didn’t chat because Bob was fully occupied with yapping and charging at the passing four legged traffic and taking all my attention.  Charlie had decided that this was a chance for a toilet break and dragged Joy around while he looked for a spot to suit him.

Nicky and Fleur arrived, Joy managed to find a bag for the pooh and we headed along the path to the dog beach.  Joy told us how many times Charlie has poohed that day and how often yesterday.

It was busy along the path and there was a queue at the water station.  While we waited for Fleur to drink, Joy who was still holding a green plastic bag, explained the problem to a couple of people in the queue.  One of them helpfully suggested boiled rice.

Fleur queue jumped and had her face in the water before a few larger dogs who were ahead of her managed to get their snouts in the bowl.  A discussion about this got underway with a suggestion that we should have been watching what was happening. Several people pointed out that there was a queue in case we hadn’t noticed. Fleur slurped up her full of water and we moved on leaving the queue to sort its self out.

Bob leaped around on the end of the lead rather like some mechanical toy that barks a lot.  Joy shouted, “Shut up Bob,” over and over again.  Bob appeared to take these words as part of the background noise and continued to do what he was doing.

Nicky and Joy discussed the latest inoculation their dogs were booked in for. They think the injection should not be a yearly event and the vets do it every 12 months for money.  They wondered if they should defer for another year and save the money.

No decision was reached by the time we arrived at the gate to the dog beach.  We struggled through with the leads and dogs getting confused.  We unclipped them and let the dogs have their heads.

Charlie, Bob and Fleur race off to sniff the dogs that arrived before us while we strolled across the sand.

Dog owners stood around and talked dogs.  One topic was the breed of their dog.

Charlie is a Chinese Crested and this draws attention to us. We’re popular as hairless-Charlie is an oddity.

Bob’s breed is harder to determine. He arrived in the Lost Dogs’ home with no history.

The conversations don’t flow freely as we are constantly interrupted.

“Charlie. Charles! Where the hell has Charlie gone?”

“Can you see Fleur? I hate the way she hides in those sand dunes. Fleur! Fleur!”

“There she is right behind you!”

“Oh. Right!”

And so it went on.

There was no wind, the sea was like glass and the sun came out. It was a perfect day for taking the dog to the beach.

Charlie, who wears a coat over his hairless hide, managed to get it soaking wet so he had to have it removed.  He was back in the sea again immediately and Joy hoped, out loud to anyone that was listening, that the salt water would be good for his skin but now there was a problem of him getting sunburned. She wished she had brought some sun cream.  The sun was hot for mid-April.

Later, when we were at a local cafe a young girl about six or seven came up to ask if she could pat our dogs.  The dogs were lying on the warm concrete dozing. Bob and his voice were zoned out.

The girl stroked them and finally with Joy’s permission sat with Bob on her knee.  He curled up and breathed deeply. He’s didn’t drop off though because he was able to rouse himself to say a few words to a poodle that passed too close but he was half hearted about it.

I took Bob back to his car.  He had lost any urge to bounce.  I like Bob better when he’s exhausted with sand and sea.

My face had caught some sun and the corn fritters with egg and bacon at the cafe were delicious.  It was worth the trip. I lifted Bob into Joy’s car, gave him a pat and said goodbye until next time.

Julie Butcher: “Feasting on Art”

Last time I was in USA I was looking for love! This time, thirty-eight years later travelling with ‘the current husband,’ we are looking at art. Feeling some marital pressure to get value for our below parity dollar, I have booked a number of guided tours through galleries, museums and memorials.

We begin in Washington DC, a capital not unlike Canberra, spread out and car infested, where everything appears big but not high-rise; a touch of Paris with its radial roads and circuits.

A bus tour of Vietnamese, Korean and Lincoln memorials seems a sensible way to begin. The story of a Chinese student of architecture – a 21-year-old female – winning a design competition for the Vietnamese memorial appeals to me. Specially sourced highly polished stone becomes a mirror to those reflecting. The Korean memorial, with statues of soldiers creeping through vegetation, is eerie. Roosevelt’s, with its evermore-relevant proclamations, is so compelling.

Our guide shares much trivia, not least of which that Trump’s helicopters fly above us in packs of three (two for decoy). It is a hot day and we are grateful for iced water.

The National Portrait Gallery in Washington is laid out in such a way that we spend a day engrossed in the history and development of the American nation while the courtyard and adjacent café invite further respite and reflection – with reasonable coffee to boot.

Next, in New York, we are booked to take the 90 minutes City Skyline Cruise on the Hudson River. One helpful New Yorker explains that to buy subway tickets you can only use your credit card twice in one day, and that to find Pier 78 a weekly ticket is the simplest solution. Despite it being a warm Sunday afternoon, the tour provides a breather with some much-needed distance and a better sense of perspective from the crazy streets.

Days later we will explore Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the MET), the Guggenheim Museum, the Frick Collection and a particular Smithsonian industrial design history museum. But for now the shops are calling!

Having mastered the subway we visit the Neue Gallery, home to the famous Klimt Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (also called The Lady in Gold or The Woman in Gold). Even though three quarters of it is closed for an installation, we are still enthralled by one floor of Austrian works and it being our wedding anniversary, we adjourn to imbibe serious coffee, sacher torte and kugelhopf cake in their classy Viennese themed cafe.

Only a few streets from our tiny flat in Lower East Manhattan, a tour of the Tenement museum details the miserable lives of two immigrant families in early twentieth century New York. Our guide tells the story of a young couple that meets, marries and has four children in the dire conditions evident here. One day the husband simply disappears. The case is considered closed when, years later, a will finds its way to the wife via Ireland and, in a court of law, he is deemed dead and she the recognised heir. But in 2006 or thereabouts, on a tour such as ours today, somebody recognises the husband’s name and thus confirms that the scoundrel had indeed left his struggling family, to re-appear decades later in a nursing home in Ohio.

An early morning tour of MoMA proves quite the contrast to those Tenements. We are marched around the building by a fervent guide to iconic pieces that represent significant events or major movements in art history. I am feasting on Cezanne’s still-life apples and find the extensive Picasso collection illuminating. For the first time I understand the majesty of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, oil on canvas. Five prostitutes gave their time, and probably services, to pose for little reward. The painting then rested in Picasso’s studio for ten years before it was recognised as a significant work of art. Glass of Absinthe, 1914, painted bronze with spoon, also depicts something else that “… was a subject of fierce debate. It was prohibited in early 1915 as a threat to French health and moral vigor. Picasso’s sculpture can be seen as a tiny monument to a disappearing culture.”

With so much to choose from in The MET, including an extensive Rodin exhibition, it is great to learn more about American artists such as Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollack and Elaine de Kooning. However, I am constantly drawn back to the modern European works: walls covered with wonderful paintings by Cezanne, Van Gogh and the Degas collection – to name a few.

Having read the historical fiction of Degas’s ballerina model, Marie van Gotham, a bronze sculpture – of her petite form showing the disciplined pose of her ‘resting’ ballet position, the fine musculature of her thin legs and the grace of her arms – is totally mesmerizing.

Another day, visiting The Frick, I am elated to see Vermeer is represented by three of his 34 paintings. These paintings exude light and colour such as no other – the bold blue of a maid’s cloth, the rich yellow of her mistress’s cloak and the lustre of that famous pearl earring – and four hundred years hence they are remarkable for their power to draw you in.

I love browsing the museum/gallery shops pouncing upon postcards and bookmarks of my favourite works. One day I lunge at a small book called Women Who Read Are Dangerous, that looks at the social history of women who read, and it ponders the question why artists so often choose a woman reading as the subject of a painting or photograph. Almost every double page shows quality colour prints of female readers caught unaware in the act of reading by artists mentioned above and many more. “Probably it’s the voyeurism that interests some artists,” writes Karen Joy Fowler in her Foreword. For me it is sublime.

Meanwhile fifty people are gunned down in Las Vegas and Trump and Kim Jong-un continue to bait each other while we revel in the art and riches of USA. It seems incongruous.


John Craven: “What the Travel Agents Do Not Tell You About Japan”

When planning to go to Japan, or anywhere else, it is desirable to do a bit of research. There are plenty of places to start – glossy pamphlets, confusing websites, newspaper articles, and, if all else fails there is no shortage of young enthusiastic travel agents. In the excitement of planning it is easy to overlook the possibility that most of these sources have a conflict of interest – their compelling aim is to sell you something. In their haste to sign you up it is possible that they might overlook a few essential survival skills and this cautionary little note is my humble attempt to supplement the glossy stuff.

It is no surprise that Japanese people speak and write in their native tongue. I do not have any problems with this but I must admit that I was a bit surprised that, even in tourist hotspots, they had not noticed that lazy Australian visitors had not bothered to learn much Japanese. After all, we had heard that all Japanese children learn English as a second language. The bit that I had missed was there must not have been much incentive to take this tuition seriously because by the time I was trying to negotiate hotel bookings, public transport options and ordering meals it turned out that their grasp of English was on a par with my grasp of Japanese. The results are generally amusing and a satisfactory outcome can be negotiated by steadily increasing levels of flailing arms and talking loudly.

Japan had a long period when they were top of the class in industrial innovation and, in addition, they were not wasting money on armaments. This may not be the only reasons for the amazing advances in toilet technology that is to be seen in every venue. For anyone not familiar with the legendary TOTO toilets they come in many versions but, invariably, they have heated seats, have flushing systems beyond description and a driving panel of breathtaking complexity. There is, of course, no guidebook even in Japanese and, just when you think you have cracked the logic, you can be confronted by another model. Not a big problem but it might be a good idea to attend a briefing before departure but goodness only knows how that might be achieved.

Some people I know quite well like to have a gin and tonic at about the witching hour and had prepared well by purchasing the gin well in advance of their first night in Japan but finding tonic water was a nightmare. After obsessive searching in every place we visited we were finally rewarded with two small bottles and thought we had the problem licked. Unfortunately, the store involved never seemed to replace the bottles we had purchased. The message for people given to having a G&T as a prelude to raw fish I is not worry about the gin which is easy to find and relatively inexpensive but secure a source of tonic water by any means at your disposal.

In personal transactions such as booking into a hotel, shopping or ordering a meal your Japanese hosts will display lots of bowing and head nodding and, I presume, the words are friendly and deferential. This makes for very gracious feel-good interactions. It is logical to think that this gracious style will carry-over into street life but, alas, the first train ride undermines the image as everyone jostles ruthlessly to obtain a seat. Older citizens rarely win these contests until they figure out their own cunning strategies.

While talking about trains my impression is that your travel agent will tell you all about the bullet trains that travel at breathtaking speed between the big cities. Everything they tell you is true i.e. the seats are comfortable, the speed is impressive, the punctuality is legendary.

The bullet trains are lovely but, of course, they cannot fill all your travel needs and, in the local train travel scene, there are skills to be acquired as you graduate from terrified, lost novice to accomplished, cool commuter. The main barriers encountered on this part of your journey are the total absence of signs in English, daunting banks of ticket selling machines and information sources that are impenetrable. The first step in this learning process is to get a decent map of the system and when you crack the logic that tells you that every line has a designated letter and every station has a number you are well on the way. The next little challenge is find out where you are and where you want to go – the map tells you where the train goes but it is another thing to know where, for example, the fish market is located. Once you have sorted out that you need to go from Station C13 to C19 where you can find D12 to go to D18 you only have to find someone to sell you a ticket. The suburban trains are often crowded but are, otherwise brilliant, frequent and punctual. In fact they are so punctual that when a train appears to have arrived 3 minutes early beware, they are never early or late, and if you get on the “early” train you could end up miles away from where you thought you were going.

Food is exquisitely packaged and a visit to the food section of a big metropolitan departmental store is absolutely magic. Food in these stores ranges from expensive to eye-watering but if your agent has not programmed a visit to such a store then you are being short-changed.

Japan is a lovely tourist destination and has countless shrines and breath-taking tourist destinations but, if you want to do a bit of exploring on your own make sure you engage an agent that has actually been there and knows about the little tricks that will ensure that you can pass as a native.

John Craven: “Bonny Goes Nursing”

Bonny was destined for greatness. She was born into Labrador royalty and there were huge expectations for Bonny and the rest of the litter. This high achieving canine dynasty had provided raw material for the police, customs, emergency services and assisting blind people to negotiate the perils of their environment.

All the early signs were propitious – eating, feeding, playing on schedule and, in due course, Bonny was assigned to a volunteer family to get her through her teenage puppy years. The volunteers meant well but their lifestyle was chaotic, helicopter mother, transient father and moody, uncooperative children. The saving grace was that the mother was a bit anal about law and order and, having given up making any progress with her children saw Bonny as her chance to exert a bit of control. Puppy school, regular walks, visits to the vet provided a pleasant escape and, in due course, she discovered the joy of a “dog park” where the dogs were off their leash and there was a chance for leisurely chatting to the other dog owners. But, of course, it all had to end as Bonny was destined for higher things.

What happened next is a bit of a mystery as Bonny was whisked away by faceless handlers who ran the next stage of her induction into a working career. From all available accounts she failed police dog standards because of an unfortunate lack of interest in biting people even when they were obnoxious. This was a disappointing set-back but it was not the end of the line. Customs or Border Force or some such outfit with stern looking people in black uniforms were prepared to check her out. This lot were after dogs that could sniff all manner of things that people were inclined to tuck into improbable places. Bonny loved this new job and she cheerfully scampered all over airport arrival halls sniffing at grumpy, tired passengers and, from time to time, breaking out into joyful barking. This carry-on prompted knowing smiles from the milling masses as they thought that authorities had caught another villain and the world would be a safer place. Bonny basked in this nice little vibe and, to add to her joy, she was given a special treat. However, the storm clouds were gathering. Bonny was being too enthusiastic and, like many another high-profile athlete, began to play to the crowd. The end was swift. Bonny showed great interest in a bag belonging to a very important person whose lack of enthusiasm for special attention was soon brought to the attention of the people who make the big decisions. Bonny was summarily dismissed.

The story could have ended there and, if the stars were aligned, Bonny might have found a nice little career looking after an adoring family. However, as luck would have it, the original breeders got wind of the travails of Bonny and felt there must be another way for her to achieve fame like her siblings and forbears. They decided that she might be suited to a career as a seeing-eye dog. This was not an easy career move as her previous history was a bit of a negative. Despite their reservations, the seeing-eye people agreed to give her a chance. As it happens this was an inspired move and Bonny did wonderfully well in her training and was, eventually, assigned to an older person. They made a wonderful couple, taking ever braver journeys in their immediate community and, sometimes, to distant places.  A cardiac arrest for her owner left Bonny, once more, at a loose end. The family of her previous owner loved her dearly but lived in a flat and pets were not permitted.

Bonny was taken to a vet to have her hips checked in case she had any signs of genetically determined dodgy hips which can be part of the perils of being a labrador. The sad story poured out and the compassionate, thoughtful and enterprising vet had an idea. She had just been to see her aged mother in a nursing home where the residents had their bodies fed, bathed and clothed with nary a thought for mental stimulation. There is a long history of pets, especially dogs, transforming the lives of bored people in boring environments and our lovely vet, Dr Sally, saw Bonny as a salvation in the nursing home where her mother was living.

The immediate problem was the neurotic dragon in charge of the nursing home. She felt that an occasional musical event and an even more occasional bus ride was all that her charges could manage. More importantly, didn’t dogs need to be fed expensive food and need walking and have dubious ideas about toileting?  She failed to note that, perhaps, this was not too different from the rest of her charges. Dr Sally was not to be fobbed off so easily but her offers of free vet services and subsidized feed supplies proved to be of no avail. She proposed a last ditch plan and took Bonny with her on the next visit to the nursing home and, being a consummate actor, Bonny quietly smooched around the other residents and was an instant hit. It is tempting to end this little tale with an account of the nursing home residents rising up in rebellion and management embracing the idea of an in-house dog. The reality is that the residents did quietly enlist the aid of their relatives and, after endless negotiations Bonny went to the home on probation. Needless to say she was a huge success and lived happily ever after.

Mary Powell: “But For the Grace of My Cat”

“Are you sure that’s what you want to do?” my mate Les asked.

“Yeah.  I’m sure enough to give it a go.”

“Well it’s over to you.  I like her, don’t get me wrong but she doesn’t seem your type.  You need to be with someone like Amy.”

“Yes, well, Amy doesn’t want me. So we can forget about that.”

“Well obviously not Amy but someone like her – more easy going.  Someone who likes a laugh.”

“Just because Julie doesn’t laugh at your jokes doesn’t mean she doesn’t like a joke. She can be very funny sometimes.”

“Be it on your own head, then. But take it from me. It won’t work out. She’s not your type.”

Les being so against it made me keener. I’m not sure why but I wanted to prove him wrong.  Besides I fell for Julie the moment I saw her. She’s got blonde hair and blue eyes, rather like the girl arrested for smuggling drugs in Bogotá. When I saw that picture I thought for a moment it was Julie. Silly of course because I was with her the night before.

I decided I’d talk to her on Wednesday when we had dinner at our favourite place, Hanoi Hannah in Windsor.

I met her there and we managed to get a table outside where it isn’t so noisy although you’ve got the trams but nothing like the din you can get inside.  I wanted to be able to concentrate.

We were served our wine and Julie said for about the fiftieth time. “I wish they had proper wine glasses. I hate drinking wine out of these glasses. They’re for water.”

I let that pass as I always do and ordered our usual – pork belly sliders, lime and pepper squid, prawn spring rolls and vermicelli salad with crispy tofu.

‘Do you want to try something else to vary it a bit?” I asked ever hopeful.

“No that’s what we always have. We like it so why risk trying something else.”

Julie is always like that, once she’s found something she likes or doesn’t like for that matter, she sticks to it.

I was not sure how to get on to the subject of moving into together. I fussed about a bit then I just launched into it.

“Hey,” I said. “How about we move in together?”

“What?” said Julie. As she said it the food came and we had to shuffle around to make room for it on the table.

When we’re settled I said it again, “Why don’t we move in together. We get on well. We should give living together a try.”

“You mean you move into my room?” Julie shared a house with her friend, Helen.

“No. I was thinking you move in with me. Share my place. It’s big enough for two.”

She stared at me with her big blue eyes. “Have you never noticed that I try to avoid going to your place?”

“Do you? I hadn’t really noticed. Why?”

“You mean it never occurred to you that we are always at mine.”

“I suppose we are. It’s just worked out that way. I go home with you and stay there. What’s wrong with my place?”

“It’s not the place. It’s the cat.”


“That’s a really stupid name, you know.”

“It’s a sort of joke name.” I didn’t mention that Amy had thought of it and we’d laughed over it. “What’s wrong with him?”

“He’s a cat and not even a pure breed or anything. And ugly. Have you notice how ugly he is?  Black and white everywhere. But no pattern. Just sort of splashed around. Messy. Anyway I can’t live with a cat.”

My mouth dropped open. I was stunned. Then I said,

“Why didn’t you tell me you don’t like cats?” A picture of Tiddles coming to greet me when I opened my door filled my head. He always gave a stretch and a yawn, then rubbed around my legs.

“It never came up.” Julie said, “But we could try living together if you get rid of the cat. I’m getting a bit tired of Helen.” She said this quite calmly.

“What do you mean by ‘get rid of’?”

“Oh you could give him to someone. Les might want him or you could take him to an animal shelter.”

I had never noticed until that moment what a small mean mouth Julie had. It was always beautifully made up with a ruby coloured lipstick. Now some of the lipstick had come off.

“I’m not getting rid of Tiddles. Tiddles stays.”

“So you prefer Tiddles to me?” Her voice was cold.

I was beginning to feel sick and the pork sliders seemed rich.

“Why didn’t you tell me you didn’t like Tiddles.” I said. Angry, now. “Why wait until now?”

“He’s just a cat. What’s the big deal? Cats leave their fur around and their dirt boxes stink. They yowl. I’m not living with one.”

Her face began to look sly and rat-like, and her eyes got rather hard and narrow. I’d seen the expression before but not thought about it.  Then I thought about Tiddles. I thought ‘you wonderful cat you would catch a rodent if you had a chance’. My loyalty to Tiddles made me want to protect him.

“Well.” I said, “I guess it is not going to work then.”

She got up, “So you prefer a moth-eaten cat to me. Well thanks very much. I know where I stand now.” She marched off with a parting shot.

“You can pay for this. Why don’t you take the rest of the food home for your wonderful cat.”

I paid the bill and rang Les,

“How about a beer?”

“Things not go well then?”

I almost heard him grinning.

Dota Abdilla: “A Childhood Wonder”

Where is the sense of awe and wonder?

That came from innocent youthful eyes

Mesmerised by the small twinkling stars

Each disappearing by the sunrise


A moon that waxed full and round each month

In the distant sky that seemed so near

Mysteriously engaged by its presence

Changing in form each night of the year


The beauty of its reflection upon

The calm waters of the deep blue sea

With all its lively ripples sparkling

A gentle hypnosis entrancing me


An ocean full of life, another world

What lay in its depth I would ponder?

Terror, darkness and killer monsters

Amongst a life of beauty and colour


My curious mind escaped in daydreams

The world was exciting to explore

One adventure after another

New discoveries beckoned me more


The universe forever expanded

From the depths of my comfort zone

I experienced life and began to wonder

On my own I felt never alone


Ages have passed since my journey began

With life continually unravelling

A long exciting, sometimes weary passage

I now yearn to come home from my travelling


Brenda Richards: “Twelfth Night”

I left the pub and walked home past the houses with their Christmas lights blazing. Tomorrow was twelfth night. They’d take their decorations down and then Christmas would be over. It couldn’t come soon enough for me.

It was a warm evening, with the moon shining through the clouds.  I was gob-smacked by a vision of Santa and his reindeer racing across the sky. There were people in his sleigh.

“Get a hold of yerself there, boy!” I counselled. “It’s just clouds.” I looked again. It still looked like old Ho Ho himself with a strange collection of people. Maybe they’re dead relatives looking down on me. All the living relatives do. Maybe they’re right and I am just a lousy drunk. If I’d been a better bloke, I might have had a warm family Christmas, instead of a charity meal in the local hall, for which, of course, I am eternally grateful.

Christmas was never a happy time, even as a kid. Mum said we’d no money for stuff like that because my no-good father had left us.

“It’s all I can do to keep shoes on your feet. You should be thankful.”

Thankful for what? Anyway, I didn’t care. I didn’t believe in Christmas anyway.

Except once. Tom, the old fellow who lived next door sometimes gave me money for cutting his lawn. One year he asked me to help him fix up his old bike. Well why not? He was always good to me. I painted up that bike and it was really something.

Next day, Tom called me over. It was the sixth of January; exactly twelve days after Christmas. Tom called it ‘Little Christmas.’

“If things go wrong on the real day, boy, you get another chance on twelfth night,” he told me. “Now, about that bike. I’m too old to ride it. Would you take it off my hands?”

Would I ever? I was so proud of that bike. I rode it everywhere.

Old Tom died a few months later. People soon forgot about him, but every twelfth night, I remember his big smile as he gave me the bike. Well, no use getting maudlin’. I turned into my street. It was dark as I neared the boarding house where I had a dingy room. There was commotion two doors up.

“You’re no good, Jack. Just like your father,” a woman yelled as a skinny boy slammed the door. He bumped into me as he tore out the front gate. I’d seen him around. “Whoa”, I called out as I grabbed him.

He kicked me in the shins.

“Let me go,” he yelled. “I hate Christmas.”

“Me too,”’ I said, holding on to his wriggling frame. “Tell me about it.”

“What would you know, you old drunk? Mum’s always cranky and everybody hates everybody and I never get anything, anyway.”

“Life’s like that, son. Mum probably didn’t get what she wanted, either.” I found a couple of dollars in my pocket.

“Here. Buy yerself a coke, then go home.  Yer Mum will be worried.”

He grabbed it and scampered off.

Next morning I headed for the local. I’d celebrate ‘little Christmas’ myself. The pub was just past the bike shop. There was a shiny blue bike in the window. I went in on a whim.

“How much is the bike?” I asked for curiosity.

I nearly choked when he told me. I hadn’t seen that much money for years. I headed into the pub. I felt shivery. Maybe I was comin’ down with something. I grabbed a slab to take home.

A man gets lonely when he’s not feeling too good. I found my ‘bits and pieces’ I keep at the back of the drawer. There’s a picture of me and mum, my first communion medal and a ribbon I won running in the school sports. I came first. They said I had promise.

I don’t know why I hide them. They’re not worth stealing. Except for Grandad’s old fob watch. That should be worth something. Mum said Grandad was a proper gentleman. No matter how bad things were, I never parted with it.

I felt the watch in my hand. I could see mum when she gave it to me. It was just after I won the race.

“Your grandad gave me this for you when you were born. Look after it, son,” she said. “A man’s somebody with a watch like that.”

Mum’s eyes looked soft. It was like she had dreams for me. Life must have knocked out the dreams – but she did her best. I thought of Jack’s mother. Maybe she had dreams once.

I was feeling better. Maybe I’d go back down the pub for a bit of company.

I walked by the pawn shop, fingering the fob watch in my pocket. What did a man want with an old watch? I’m not exactly ‘somebody.’ May as well have the money.

I went passed the bike shop. The bike was still there.

“How much did you say it was?”

I pulled the money out of my wallet and placed it on the counter. I was $30 dollars short. I tried my pockets. Nothing. I picked up the money and turned to go.

“Hey,” said the bike man.  “I made a mistake.”

“Yeah,” I thought. “I nearly made one too.”

“There’s a $30 discount on everything. It’s yours if you want it.”

I felt confused. Then the penny dropped. I turned back.

“It’s a deal.”

He got the bike down. It was an amazing looking machine. “Deliver it to Jack.” I gave him the address. “Tell him it’s from old Fred Murphy.”

I was suddenly tired… I didn’t feel like a drink after all. I turned for home.


The funeral was held a few days later. Only the priest and a worker from the Mission attended – watched by a small boy standing silently beside his brand new bike.

Brenda Richards: “Up to Speed”

“Often away and believed uneducable.” I stared at the words. This was Phil’s last school report, hand written on a sheet of paper. There was no other information. He had not completed primary school. He was now 14, six foot tall, and wanting to live at my place, which was then an open house. Of course he could, but as he was under the school leaving age, he would have to go to school.

I had briefly met Phil as a small boy, when he lived next door to me, not long before he returned to Tasmania. I looked again at the school report. What did it mean? Then Phil told me a bit about his life in Tasmania. The last of his school years saw him living with a relative who was often alcoholically affected. The place was chaotic and at times Phil slept in a lounge chair. Phil, of Maori and Spanish heritage, found acceptance in the indigenous community. A fun night out was joining his new friends in the game of ‘stoning’ street lights. Phillip had good hand/eye coordination, and unfortunately ‘blacked out’ a number of streets.

Then the welfare got to hear about his situation – and Phil got to hear about their interest in him. He moved himself to the local tip, “so the welfare wouldn’t get me.” He lived there for some months, eating pumpkin, and whatever else he could scrounge.

What was I doing, sending this young man back into a system that had completely failed him? Was the report an accurate assessment? Maybe he was ‘uneducable.’ Was I setting up another failure in a life that had been marked by abuse? The questions swirled around in my head.

Then Phil described how he got a job in the local foundry when he was thirteen, putting his age up to match his height.

“People look down on us for working in the foundry,” he told me, “But they don’t know that we look down on them because they can’t work hard.”

This was not the observation of an unintelligent boy. But how would he handle the school environment? He couldn’t go back into a primary situation or even the first years of high school. He was too large, and had lived beyond his years.

A friend heard of my dilemma.

“What you need is Speed.”

“I’m not really into drugs, although a glass of wine wouldn’t go astray.”

“No,” he explained. ‘You need Harold Speed. He’s a teacher.”

Teachers hadn’t played a positive part in Phil’s life up to now, in fact few adults had. I was a bit dubious.

“Speed’s different. He lives in Elwood, so he knows life. Where education’s concerned, he’s your man. He’s at the Prahran Tech.”

I had nothing to lose, so I made an appointment. A snowy haired older man met me. I barely had time to present the problem. Harold was off and running.

“He needs to go into Form Three at his age and height. It’s best if the other kids don’t know his history. The same goes for the teachers – except for his class teacher. I’ve got a good one in mind. I’ll word her up.”

I wondered how Phil would fit in, with his extraordinary experiences.

“How’s he off for clothes? Appearances shouldn’t count, but they do.”

“He’s basically got what he’s standing up in.”

“What’s his size? I know some people who can help.”

The ‘people’ Harold knew, were the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar, then playing at the Palais. I discovered that when the gentle Harold spoke, people tended to obey. The members of the group were pleased, or coerced, to donate from their wardrobe. Phil was lining up to be the best dressed kid in the school.

Then Harold sorted me out. “You’d better go on the parent / teacher committee as his parent. That’ll give him a boost.”

How could I say no?

“And what about money?”

“There’s no way he’d go near welfare for assistance.”

“Wise boy. He’s a worker. I think I can arrange a small grant for him. Tell him it’s because going to school, after being away for so long, is really hard work. That’ll give him some dignity.”

How Harold managed it, I don’t know, but he did.  Phil received a small fortnightly income and tutoring was arranged through the Fitzroy community centre. A young woman arrived weekly on Thursday after school. Phil was thrilled when he explained fractions to me, using her voice. “What you do to the tops, you do to the bums. Simple.” Phil was on his way.

How did Phil go? He got a pass halfway through the year, although not yet being quite up to the Form standard. It was explained that the pass was because he had achieved so much in a short time. He passed in his own right at the end of the year.

Eventually, Phil went on to do a business course at the Australian Institute of Management, which was then in St. Leonards Avenue. He ended up running his own cleaning business, and as a respected member of the community, is a lasting memorial to Harold.

Harold lived through two world wars and the Depression. He had a vast general knowledge and a fierce intelligence. There were no teachers colleges when he started out. He trained through the apprenticeship system, working with experienced teachers. At times he dealt with up to 70 children in a class, yet to him, each student was important. He saw courage and strength in people where others were blind. Harold brought out the best in people.

Harold was also part of the push to have a library in St. Kilda and was politically active in the Labor movement. He lived in Elwood for some 70 years. He died this year, aged 98. He was a Port Phillip man with extra-ordinary vision.

We should all aspire to ‘live up to Speed.’


Alex Njoo: “Remembering George”

Dear George,

I’m sorry that I didn’t speak at your memorial. But I felt that those who did; had done so with such heartfelt eloquence. Anything I’d say would have been superfluous.

At any rate, you’d have dismissed the whole performance of grieving friends and relatives, albeit celebrating your life and achievements, as hogwash.

You disliked pomp and ceremonies. You’ve always said that sincerity could not be scattered for one and all to see, so much so, it often became an expression of regret rather than genuine sorrow or happiness.

On second thought, well meant as the idea of the memorial was, you wouldn’t have turned up. Instead, you would have walked your favourite Foreshore, picking up the odd bits of debris that thoughtless people threw away. And I, the odd times that we walked together, would remind you that your obsession for doing so bordered on the unhealthy. Then, our conversation would lapse into the right and wrong of how seriously would we, as users of public places, regard our role as their custodians.

“Our indigenous cousins do a better job of looking after our earthly legacy,” you’d add. And that was the way that you view the world. No frills. A blank canvass, as it were, where the landscape belongs to all of us.

At the same tme, we both suffered fools very badly. You had no patience for the minutiae of every day life, and I was a hoarder of pedestrian events. You were a complex person; not an easy person to be with some of the times.  Often, our worlds clashed and we both stuck to our own planets

If we had met when the blossoms of our youth were bursting with joyous abandon, we’d never have found common ground to begin our friendship. Instead, we met only a decade or so ago, in the twilight of our lives.

We met at one of those advocacy groups, usually formed to protest against the idiocy of local governments. This time, it was a gargantuan shopping behemoth that would ravage a public space, our beloved foreshore. There were allegations of collusions and conflicts of interests among the protagonists, including some members of the local burghers. It was a morass of planning idiocy and commercial greed, with a dash of corrupt behaviour on the part of those who should know better.

You were, until then, relatively unknown to the local citizenry, having come from interstate. But soon, your forensically attuned mind began to wield the kind of ideas that the advocacy group needed.

I think it was you, George, who suggested a weekly morning coffee chat at a neighbourhood cafe, frequented by some of the so-called ‘intelligentsia’. I began to introduce you to some of them. They warmly welcomed you into their ‘esoteric’ fold. You fit into that milieu like a glove, George.

Occasionally, we would meet at the overpass towards the beach; I would be on my way to the local swimming bath, and you and your wife would be returning from your morning walks.

I have often mentioned to you that I envied your long and deliberate strides. On the odd occasion that we walked together, I often felt like Pancho to your Don Quixote.

We met, at the time of our lives when some friendships began to fade, often due to death of one or the other person. But our collective concern about ‘doing the right thing’ seemed to transcend all those circumstances.

We were different, yet similar in so many ways. We never shared a war or a sporting field, as neither of us was sports-minded. We travelled widely, albeit separately; you with your wife, and I with my younger family. Almost every year you would spend some time in your beloved Italy. Upon your return, you’d regal me with your travel tales. Your passing knowledge of Italian and French gave you the cultural insights of the places you visited.

And although, you were native-born, I have often said that you struck me of being born overseas. Not English, Scottish or Irish, but European. I thought, perhaps Italian? We’d laugh at the perception that we had of each other. We even toyed with the idea of writing each other’s obituary.

You said, “ I think we know one another well enough, to do that. What do you think?”. I agreed. But time and other distractions meant that we never did. Although, you intimated that you had written a draft.

I wish that the last time we met, that I had said what I wanted to say. But your illness had taken hold of you. Your eyes, however, understood the unspoken words.

Life, as they say, is for the living. But I shall dearly miss our extraordinarily ordinary friendship.

Affectionately yours.

Alex Njoo


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